PARRISH -- Feeling the love of one of the fastest-growing congregations in Manatee County, Bayside Community Church will open its fifth campus Valentine's Day.
The nondenominational Christian megachurch started in 2002, and is growing to meet the needs of 7,500-plus members. Based out of a 45-acre East Manatee campus where it opened a 62,000-square-foot worship center in early 2015, the church surveys members annually about where they want a new campus.
During the 2014 Christmas season, the members overwhelmingly called for a new Bayside location in the Parrish area.
Church leadership saw it as a call for immediate action. It negotiated to lease space from Buffalo Creek Middle School, hired a campus pastor and made plans to open Bayside's new North River campus in early 2016.
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North River's new pastor, the Rev. David Murphy, said the announcement of his appointment at an October service at the church's main worship center let him know he would help meet a need for Bayside members living in Ellenton, Parrish, Palmetto and other points north.
"I don't know how many hands I shook," said Murphy, a native of Northern Ireland. "We have literally hundreds of families that come from this area."
Murphy is a relative newcomer to the church. He started attending Sunday services in April while serving as pastor of a Spanish-speaking congregation of The Crossing Church in Tampa. Some months later, he said, he felt a call to pastoral leadership at Bayside, an experience he described as an "unsettling of the soul."
Soon after, Bayside hired him to lead the North River campus.
The 39-year-old husband and father of three stands out at Bayside thanks to his strong Irish brogue. Watching him walk through the halls of the main campus building, it's easy to mistake him as someone who has been part of the church for years. He knows the first names of every congregant and staff member he meets. In nearly every encounter, he has an arm out to shake a hand or drape over a welcoming shoulder.
Murphy was born on the Canary Islands in Spain while his parents were serving as missionaries. He grew up speaking Spanish alongside English, and shared in his parents' caring for people.
He said he found that same spirit of caring at Bayside.
"We just want to love God, love people, do things right and pursue excellence," he said.
After attending college in Northern Ireland, he moved to Dallas to do his masters work in theology. It was there he met his wife, Alicia, a West Palm Beach native.
The couple later moved back to Northern Ireland where Murphy worked as an assistant pastor in Belfast. They made the move to Tampa in 2010.
Planning is still ongoing for Murphy's first day at North River. Bayside will use a combined cafeteria and auditorium space at Buffalo Creek Middle School as its adult worship center. It is also leasing enough classroom space to establish children's and middle school Sunday programs.
Kristin Becnel, church marketing director, said fast population growth in the Parrish area made establishing a new campus there a natural. She said the church's goal is to one day establish the North River campus in a permanent, church-owned location.
With new housing construction underway in a half dozen nearby subdivisions, Sunday morning attendance could one day exceed the capacity of the rented school facility.
"We do have quite a few people who currently make the East Bradenton campus their home who will attend Parrish location," Becnel said. "We want to make it easy for people to come to church."
Bayside has done that throughout its 14-year history. The church's lead pastor, the Rev. Randy Bezet, and his wife, Amy, held Bayside's first worship service at Bashaw Elementary School near Bradenton. Since then, the church has established campuses in East Manatee, East Sarasota, West Bradenton and in Hardee County.
The new campus will employ three full-time program leaders, including Murphy, as well as five part-time employees. As at all Bayside's remote locations, congregants will be led in worship by their campus pastor, but will see the Bezet's sermon live on giant video screens during the service.
The first service at the campus will take place at 9:15 a.m. Feb. 14. A second service is scheduled at 11:15 a.m. Buffalo Creek Middle School is at 7320 69th St. E.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.